Is there anything better than sitting in the comfort of your warm home and watching football in the snow?
Has there ever been anything better than sitting in the comfort of your warm home and watching the three and a half hours of football we got early on Sunday afternoon?
Let’s say you were (like me) sitting at home on Sunday, watching all the games thanks to the magic of DirecTV and multiple screens and the Red Zone Channel. Let’s say you had a buddy who had some work or family obligation, and he called you after the early games were over to ask you what he’d missed. How would you possibly convey to him everything that happened? (Other than to tell him that his work or his family really sucks for making him miss a day like this.)
Of the nine early games, eight of them were played in brutal winter weather. Detroit at Philadelphia was a blizzard of apocalyptical proportions, and we also had snow with Miami at Pittsburgh, Kansas City at Washington, Minnesota at Baltimore and Atlanta at Green Bay. It was also cold, if not snowing, for Indianapolis at Cincinnati, Cleveland at New England, and Oakland at New York Jets. Only the Bills-Buccaneers game in Tampa (which only the most masochistic of Bills and Bucs fans could watch) was played in good weather.
And, let’s face it, football is just a lot more fun in bad weather. Yes, it’s sloppy. Yes, it’s brutal for the fans in the stands. But the sloppiness makes for some crazy plays we wouldn’t otherwise see, and I sure didn’t get the sense that any fans in the stands on Sunday were anything less than thrilled with the great games they were getting. (Well, maybe not in Washington, but more on that later.)
It’s fun to see players slipping and sliding on the field, falling face-first into the snow and then picking snow out of their facemasks. It looks like what we used to do when we were kids, when we’d get tackle football games going in the snow at recess and then spend the rest of the school day in wet socks and pants.
And what games we got! Lions-Eagles was a winter classic, a game that looked for most of the day like it would result in the Lions winning a brutal defensive struggle, only to suddenly change to the Eagles winning a fourth-quarter shootout. Falcons-Packers was a back-and-forth battle that went down to the final second. Dolphins-Steelers had what appeared to be an ending worthy of the Stanford marching band, with Pittsburgh lateraling five times before Antonio Brown ran into the end zone as time expired — except that Brown stepped out of bounds. Browns-Patriots went from looking like one of the biggest upsets of the year, to looking like an incredible New England comeback, to looking like one of the most awful things Cleveland fans have ever gone through (which is really saying something).
And then there’s the ending of Vikings-Ravens. Through the first 57 minutes, this was a dull game, notable mostly for Adrian Peterson getting carted off the field. And then something amazing happened. with 2:05 to play, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco hit Dennis Pitta in the end zone for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, with 1:27 to play, Minnesota’s Toby Gerhart rumbled 41 yards for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones raced 77 yards for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, with 45 seconds left, Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson raced down the field for an apparent game-winning 79-yard touchdown. And then, with four seconds left, Flacco hit Marlon Brown in the end zone for what finally was really the game-winning touchdown.
Five touchdowns in the last 2:05. Amazing. Six lead changes in the fourth quarter, the first time that has ever happened in NFL history.
With the NFL preparing to put the Super Bowl in New Jersey in two months, there’s been much hand-wringing about whether we’re really ready for a Super Bowl in a blizzard. We can only hope the football we get on Super Bowl Sunday is as good as the football we got on this cold and snowy Sunday.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:
How is Jeff Triplette still an NFL referee? Triplette has been an NFL referee since 1999. He has consistently been the worst ref in the business. What we usually see from Triplette is general incompetence, things like what he did last week in Washington, when he failed to notice that the down marker had wrongly been changed to first down late in the game. But what we saw on Sunday in Cincinnati was even worse: Triplette used replay to reverse a correct ruling on the field, giving the Bengals a touchdown that they didn’t actually score. Colts defensive tackle Josh Chapman tripped Cincinnati’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield, and he was correctly ruled down on the field. But Triplette somehow looked at the replay and called it a touchdown. After the game, Triplette was asked if Chapman tripped Green-Ellis, and Triplette answered, “I don’t know about that.” Um, Jeff? It’s your job to know. It’s totally unacceptable that the NFL keeps trotting Triplette out there, week after week, when he simply isn’t up to the task of being an NFL referee.
Appreciating Tom Dempsey. Broncos kicker Matt Prater booted an NFL record 64-yard field goal on Sunday, meaning that Tom Dempsey, who hit a game-winning 63-yard field goal in 1970 (in New Orleans, without the benefit of Denver’s elevation), no longer owns a share of the record. But while Dempsey no longer owns an NFL record, a man who was born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand but who nonetheless became a great kicker. Dempsey is one of the great stories in the history of the NFL.
Does Washington have the worst special teams ever? All season long we’ve been talking about how bad the special teams in Washington are, but they reached a new low on Sunday by giving up 158 punt return yards and a touchdown, and 123 kickoff return yards and a touchdown — before halftime. The stats website Football Outsiders said last week — before Sunday’s fiasco — that Washington was on pace to have the fifth-worst special teams ever. Maybe a lousy effort over the last few games will be enough to get Washington to worst ever. Mike Shanahan has been saying all season that he supports his special teams coach, Keith Burns. If Shanahan supports these special teams, then Shanahan shouldn’t be a head coach.
Bernard Pollard was a victim of his own reputation. Pollard has long been known for committing personal fouls and causing injuries, but on Sunday in Denver he put a perfectly clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Broncos receiver Eric Decker . . . and was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit anyway. Pollard may have reached the point where the officials don’t give him the benefit of the doubt, but on this play there is no doubt: Pollard delivered a hard but legal hit, and the officials flagged him anyway.
A great game — and career — for John Abraham. Abraham had three sacks in the Cardinals’ win over the Rams on Sunday, giving him 133 for his career. That moves him into ninth place in NFL history, and it raises a question: Is Abraham a Hall of Famer? I would probably lean toward “no,” but he at least deserves consideration. He’s among the best pass rushers of his generation, and at age 35 he still doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Peyton Manning was brilliant on Sunday. Manning completed 39 of 59 passes for 397 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and his numbers would have been even better than that if his receivers hadn’t dropped several perfect passes. Manning, who needs just six touchdown passes to break Tom Brady’s single-season record of 50, had his huge game despite bitter cold temperatures in Denver. So much for the talk that Manning can’t play in the cold. Manning looked on Sunday like he enjoys football in the cold weather just as much as the rest of us.